Rorate Caeli

EXCLUSIVE - Book Review - Pre-Synod Book "Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family"

Eleven Cardinal Speak on Marriage and the Family: Essays from a Pastoral Standpoint, dedicated to the issues of Marriage and the Family to be discussed in the October Synod (Winfried Aymans, Editor) published by Ignatius Press, will be available in September.


Eleven Cardinals Defend Traditional Catholic Moral Teaching on Marriage and the Family

Book review by Dr. Maike Hickson.

On September 4, Ignatius Press will release a new book defending the traditional moral teaching of the Catholic Church (, entitled: Eleven Cardinals Speak On Marriage and the Family. Father Joseph Fessio, S.J. decided to redouble his effort in support of those princes of the Church who fight to uphold the authoritative teaching of the Church based upon the words of Christ Himself. Last year, Ignatius published the Five Cardinals Book, this year the Eleven Cardinals Book. 

While the 2014 book dealt with the so-called “Kasper-proposal” – which wants to allow “remarried” divorcees who live objectively in the state of adultery to receive Holy Communion – the Eleven Cardinals in the new book speak about the adequate pastoral care with regard to marriage and the family. Ignatius looked for this in this book for Cardinals who are both deeply rooted in the Church's long tradition and aware of the challenges of contemporary culture. 

The Eleven Cardinals who contributed to Father Fessio's book are the following: Cardinals Carlo Caffarra (Italy), Baselios Cleemis (India), Paul Josef Cordes (Germany), Dominik Duka (Czech Republic), Willem Jacobus Eijk (Netherlands), Joachim Meisner (Germany), John Onaiyekan (Nigeria), Antonio Maria Varela (Spain), Camillo Ruini (Italy), Robert Sarah (Guinea), and Jorge L. Urosa Savino (Venezuela). This list shows that many parts of the world, with their specific conditions and problems concerning marriage and the family, are aptly represented in this book.

The authors all write in a form of an essay about what they think would be the right pastoral approach to the current crisis of marriage and the family. Constructive ideas are presented as to how the Church can help Catholics to lead a life according to God's Will and known Commandments without giving them the impression that the Church approves of immoral behavior. Most striking and most touching are two accounts by Cardinals from India and Africa – Cardinals Baselios Cleemis and John Onaiyekan – because they show to us aspects and practices of their own churches that are now much lost (or at least forgotten) in most of the West.

As Cardinal Cleemis shows, in the Catholic Church in India marriage and the family are still regarded as being very important for the Church. Practically, this means that Bishops and priests take much interest in wedding celebrations, and it is not seldom that ten or more priests will be present at a wedding liturgy, together with the local bishop. Cleemis describes how a European guest observed this presence of the clergy at the wedding he attended and asked a priest why this is the case. Cleemis says:

One of our priests gave him this answer: “In our Church, marriage is a great, joyful event for all concerned, including the Church, and a very decisive event for the couple and their families. We share our joy with them.” (p. 15)
Like a voice from another planet, this Cardinal reports: “At present, the SMCC [Syro-Malankara Catholic Church] does not experience the problem of heavy secularization among its youth. Pastors also meet them and speak with them regularly.” Since the Indian society as a whole still refrains from approving cohabitation, the Catholic Church, according to Cleemis, is less confronted with this problem than in the West: “Cohabitation prior to sacramental marriage is very rare and exceptional among young members of the SMCC. This irregular type of union is not at all approved of by Indian society.” The involvement of the priests in the life of the faithful is indeed striking and touching. Cleemis recounts: “Our priests follow a similar approach [as with the sacramental weddings] in moments of sorrow and difficulties experienced by families. Participation of bishops and many priests in a burial service is not a matter of wonder!” And he continues: The presence of the parish priest at almost every event of small or great significance in the families who are members of his parish, his easy availability to his parishioners at any time, the personal contact with their bishops and with a large number of the faithful of their dioceses […] serve to attest to the place of family in the Church and to strengthen the family life of the faithful. (p. 16)

A Church which takes interest in and cares for the faithful and their spiritual well-being obviously bears much better fruit than a Church which is neglectful or somewhat detached from her faithful – and even from the explicit teaching of Christ – as can often enough be seen in the West.

The African Cardinal's description of African society – with its still existing problem regarding polygamy – also touches upon a point which should cause the Western churches to make a deep examination of conscience. In Nigeria, children are of great significance. Cardinal  Onaiyekan says:

Also noteworthy in our concept of marriage is the importance of offspring. Marriage is meant especially for the continuation of the human species. The love of offspring in marriage is so strong that children are almost considered a necessary condition for the validity of marriage. (p. 67)

While Onaiyekan honestly speaks about the problems inherent in his culture – namely, that a husband might look for a second wife if his first wife is unable to bear children – he still reminds us in the West of the importance of having and forming children, unto eternal life, not just for temporal abundance. There was a time in the West, too, where large families were regarded as an honor to the father of the family.

In his conclusion, the Nigerian Cardinal also speaks words of truth which the West should better listen to, as well:

The synod [on the family] has not been called to decide whether or not divorced and remarried couples can receive Holy Communion. This is certainly not the purpose of the synod. Nor has the synod been called to discuss the issue of homosexuality and whether or not two Catholic men or two Catholic women can present themselves at the altar for marriage. […] These are issues that are already clear in our doctrines. Synods are not called to change the doctrines or teachings of the Church. (p. 71)

And Cardinal  Onaiyekan beautifully ends his essay with these words: “The more our world of today is sunk down in immorality, the more there is need for the Church to be a light to the world for all to see.” Referring to the Holy Family, the “model of Christian marriage,” he says: “We place all our efforts under its patronage.”

In light of these two voices from Africa and India, the problems of the West become more clear: the pastoral care, as well as the doctrinal teaching concerning marriage and the family have been neglected. Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk says it in his essay forthrightly when he speaks of a “faulty knowledge of the faith or a lack of faith per se” among the married couples today and says that “catechesis has been seriously neglected for half a century.” And he concludes:

True pastoral ministry means that the pastor leads the persons entrusted to his care to the truth definitely found in Jesus Christ who is 'the way, and the truth, and the life' (Jn 14:6). We must seek the solution to the lack of knowledge and understanding of the faith by transmitting and explaining its foundations more adequately and clearly than we have done in the last half century. (p. 51)

Eijk reminds us that Christ entrusted the Church “to proclaim the truth.” Practically, he proposes to make the thorough preparation for future spouses an emphatic and persevering duty of the Church, and to ask the future spouses explicitly, at the onset, whether they accept the indissolubility of marriage. If they deny this doctrine, he says, they should be denied the sacrament of matrimony.

Concerning the effects of Communism on the whole world, the Czech Cardinal Duka also has much to teach us. He examines the situation on the background of his own country's protracted experience with Communism. In his eyes, the destruction of the family has been on its way since the end of the first half of the nineteenth century, and it started with the 1848 “Communist Manifesto.” He asks us: 

“Do we understand the significance of this ideological pressure that has lasted for more than a century and a half?” The family has been demeaned and besmirched for a long time: “The family has been pilloried as an exploitative institution, as a place that oppresses spontaneity and destroys hedonistic desire, individual liberty, and so on.” (p. 39) In studying the sacred traditions and the biblical foundations of our faith, says Duka, we can find greater strength and consolation in these times of gathering oppression and persecution: “Here we find the basis for the Church's warning, because she is convinced that father and mother are irreplaceable.” (p. 41)

Much importance, finally, has to be given to the essay by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra who reminds the reader of the existence of sin, the consequences of the fall of man, and the redeeming love of Christ and the mercy of His Father. All these factors must lead us to see that we are in need of God's forgiveness which He is willing to grant to us under two conditions, namely, in Caffarra's own words:

Recognition of one's own condition of moral misery, one's own sin: “What I did is not right.” This is the repentance that is expressed in confession. The consequence of this – the second act – is the decision not to do in the future what we acknowledge to be wrong: the resolution. (p. 6)

It is refreshing and encouraging to read such clear teaching here. St. Thomas Aquinas is often quoted, and Cardinal Caffarra makes very clear that there can be no admittance to the Sacraments if a person is living in the state of sin – such as adultery. There can be, accordingly, no true mercy without a sincere conversion and an enduring amendment of life: 

“Mercy without (any requirement for) conversion is not divine mercy.” And conversion from what? “From the condition that objectively contradicts the good of indissolubility granted by Jesus. A contradiction that on the practical level is adultery.”

May this Catholic Witness of Eleven Princes of the Catholic Church be heard and resolutely acted upon at the Synod in October.

[Emphases added.]